Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Foul language

Philip Oltermann considers German obscenities:

Linguist Hans-Martin Gauger spent several years comparing swearwords in 15 different languages and concluded not so much that Germans were inordinately obsessed with faecal matters, but that there were inordinately reluctant to use sexual metaphors to express negative sentiments.

Look up "motherfucker" in the Langenscheidt dictionary and you get Arschloch (arsehole). In German you don't say: "Verfick dich (fuck off)," but "Verpiss dich (piss off)"; you don't feel "fucked off" but "beschissen (shat upon)". Even Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was happy to use the filthy German equivalent of "kiss my arse" in his 1773 play Götz von Berlichingen: "Er aber, sag's ihm, er kann mich im Arsche lecken!" Only the Swedes share a similar reluctance to use sexual metaphors as swearwords.

Gauger admits that, with the globalisation of German, that reluctance is starting to wear off, but he insists that Germans should, at any rate, not be ashamed of their linguistic habit, but proud of it. "I find it much more troubling when we use sexual organs as terms of abuse." 

I can see that.

On the other hand, the amazingly easy, effective and somehow elegant all-purpose obscenity of the f-word is one thing I do miss in German.

Exhibit, uh, 'F' (caution: harsh language):


Frau Mahlzahn said...

I have to disagree... were it not for my Kids being around most of the time "v.erfickte Sch.eiße" would be one of my favorite curse-words... Out of necessity O confine myself to "heiliger Muckefuck"...

Also I remember my first year in the States in 84 in Maryland, when people, even other teenagers, would be offended, when I said "fuck" -- I kept telling them, it was German for shit, ;-).

(Never said, I was classy).

Say hi to The Wife.

So long,

Anonymous said...

Not to forget the good old "fick dich!"

John Carter Wood said...

Oh yes, it's certainly possible to use sexual imagery in German swearing, but the argument of the piece is (and my experience agrees) that it is much less common than in English.

Though my favourite German variation of a sexually overtoned insult is probably 'fick dich ins knie', probably because of its physical impossibility (or at least improbability).

As I recall the 80s, Frau M, we in suburban Chicago were well practiced -- even as 14 year olds -- with using the word 'fuck'.

You may have landed in a particularly prudish part of Maryland.

I know from experience that they exist too.

Mr. Joyboy said...

Of course you should never 'use sexual organs as terms of abuse.' They're meant to be used as instruments of abuse.

John Peters said...

Surely the best use of the f-word in English was in 'The Wire'.

John Carter Wood said...

Good advice, MJ!

Thanks, JP, for the reminder!